Arts & Activities  
      April Student Page      

      Concept, Composition, Confidence, Contrast, Color Harmony, Character, Courage      
      By Dan Bartges      
      Assignment 8 In A Series Of 10: Color Harmony      

To understand this chapter, you'll need one thing: a standard, 12-hue color wheel, available for about $5 at arts-and-crafts stores or online at art-supply websites. (Either the 9- or 5-inch diameter wheel is fine.)

      A standard color wheel features 12 colors, or hues.      

So get yourself a color wheel, then let's embark on this colorful adventure!
Throughout the school year, we've been discovering seven key ingredients in successful paintings and showing you how to use them in your artwork. So welcome aboard! As our voyage continues to unfold, you'll begin to see big improvements in your own artwork.

Each month, simply read about the paintings featured on this Web page. Next, print out the "Quiz Me!" sheet, write in your answers to three short questions, then hand the sheet in to your art teacher. (The correct answers will be shared with you on the next month's Student Page.)

      COLOR HARMONY      

To create your best artwork and to really enjoy painting, you need to learn how color harmony works. If your colors aren't harmonious (if they become discordant, like sour notes in music), then your entire painting will seem lifeless or downright unattractive—even if you've painted everything else correctly!

Fortunately, the basic principles of color are easy to learn because there are only six color schemes. Simple, huh? So, let's get started!

Incidentally, the first color wheel was devised in 1666 by the genius Isaac Newton, and no one has ever come up with a better way to show how color harmony works.


A standard color wheel has two sides. Side A (see Illustration A) shows you how to mix two colors to create a third color—such as mixing yellow with red to get orange.
To use Side A of the wheel, simply dial a color on the rim of the inside disk to line up with any color on the outside disk; the resulting color will appear in the window.

      Illus. A. This side of a color wheel shows how to mix various colors      
      Side B of the wheel (see Illustration B) is the essential key to understanding color harmony.      
      Illus. B. This side of the wheel is your key to understanding how color harmony works.      

At the center of the wheel are several geometric shapes. These indicate various color schemes. Because color harmony depends on various colors' relationships to one another on the wheel.

For example, at the center of the wheel, look at the equilateral triangle that's labeled "Triad." Regardless of how you spin the inner disk, whatever three colors are at the points of that triangle will always be harmonious in a painting (such as green, violet and orange; or yellow, blue and red). Basically, that's how the color wheel works.
Now, let us examine the six color schemes.


This is the simplest color scheme but also the most restrictive to an artist. It consists of just one hue (red, for example, as in the illustration Two Cherries) and that color can be mixed with various amounts of white or black for variations in chroma (intensity) and value. Think of a monochromatic painting like a black-and-white photo seen through a colored filter.

      Two Cherries, by the author, was painted with only the color red,
mixed with some white and black.

The monochrome's closest kin, an analogous color scheme offers the artist much more to work with. It consists of at least two, and no more than five, consecutive colors on the color wheel. For example, turn the wheel's center dial so that red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow and yellow-green show in the five consecutive windows. Only these five analogous colors, or hues, were used for The Piano Lesson.
      The Piano Lesson, by the author, employs an analogous color scheme of five consecutive colors on the wheel.      

This scheme employs two colors that are directly opposite each other on the wheel. For example, James River at Dawn uses only subtle shades of blue and orange, the most commonly used complements, especially for landscapes.
      The two complementary colors, blue and orange, were used for
James River at Dawn, by the author.

This scheme uses three colors that are almost directly opposite one another—one on one side of the wheel, the other two adjoining that color's true complement.

For example, set the dial's "Split Complementary" triangle at red-orange, yellow-orange and blue, the combination used in Ducks on Little Wicomico Inlet.
      Ducks on Little Wicomico Inlet, by the author, uses the split-complementary color scheme of red-orange, yellow-orange and blue..      

This workhorse of a color scheme employs three colors equally spaced apart on the wheel to form a sturdy, triangular relationship. Because of its versatility, the triadic combination of green, violet and orange is often used, especially for landscapes as in Tiber Island, Rome.
      The author used three triadic colors for Tiber Island, Rome—green, violet and orange.      

More complicated and demanding, a tetrad uses four colors, which are always two pairs of complements, such as blue with orange and red with green as in Girl with a Boat.
      The color scheme for the author's Girl with a Boat is a tetrad using
blue, orange, red and green.

A tetrad can produce unusually rich paintings with excellent color structure. Note that the wheel shows two geometric shapes for a Tetrad—a rectangle and a square. Both shapes connect two pairs of complementary colors.

Conclusion As long as the combination of colors you choose for your painting conforms to a particular color scheme and the painting doesn't include any other colors, your finished painting's colors will be in harmony. These six schemes allow virtually limitless artistic expression because for each scheme, there are countless possible variations in the combinations of hues, intensities (chroma), values and applications (techniques).

      QUIZ ME!
Click here to download April Quiz Me! document
      Author: A full-time artist since 1996, Dan Bartges is the author of the book, "Color Is Everything," and two books on sports, "Winter Olympics Made Simple" and "Spectator Sports Made Simple." Visit his website at      

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